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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Dualism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dualism. Show all posts

Saturday, June 3, 2023

The illusion of the mind–body divide is attenuated in males.

Berent, I. 
Sci Rep 13, 6653 (2023).


A large literature suggests that people are intuitive Dualists—they tend to perceive the mind as ethereal, distinct from the body. Here, we ask whether Dualism emanates from within the human psyche, guided, in part, by theory of mind (ToM). Past research has shown that males are poorer mind-readers than females. If ToM begets Dualism, then males should exhibit weaker Dualism, and instead, lean towards Physicalism (i.e., they should view bodies and minds alike). Experiments 1–2 show that males indeed perceive the psyche as more embodied—as more likely to emerge in a replica of one’s body, and less likely to persist in its absence (after life). Experiment 3 further shows that males are less inclined towards Empiricism—a putative byproduct of Dualism. A final analysis confirms that males’ ToM scores are lower, and ToM scores further correlate with embodiment intuitions (in Experiments 1–2). These observations (from Western participants) cannot establish universality, but the association of Dualism with ToM suggests its roots are psychological. Thus, the illusory mind–body divide may arise from the very workings of the human mind.


People tend to consider the mind as ethereal, distinct from the body. This intuitive Dualist stance has been demonstrated in adults and children, in Western and non-Western participants and its consequences on reasoning are widespread.

Why people are putative Dualists, however, is unclear. In particular, one wonders whether Dualism arises only by cultural transmission, or whether the illusion of the mind–body divide can also emerge naturally, from ToM.

To address this question, here, we investigated whether individual differences in ToM capacities, occurring within the neurotypical population—between males and females—are linked to Dualism. Experiments 1–2 show that this is indeed the case.

Males, in this sample, considered the psyche as more strongly embodied than females: they believed that epistemic states are more likely to emerge in a replica of one’s body (in Experiment 1) and that psychological traits are less likely to persist upon the body’s demise, in the afterlife (in Experiment 2). Experiment 3 further showed that males are also more likely to consider psychological traits as innate—this is expected by past findings, suggesting that Dualism begets Empiricism.

A follow-up analysis has confirmed that these differences in reasoning about bodies and minds are linked to ToM. Not only did males in this sample score lower than females on ToM, but their ToM scores correlated with their Dualist intuitions.

As noted, these results ought to be interpreted with caution, as the gender differences observed here may not hold universally, and it certainly does not speak to the reasoning of any individual person. And indeed, ToM abilities demonstrably depend on multiple factors, including linguistic experience and culture. But inasmuch as females show superior ToM, they ought to lean towards Dualism and Empiricism. Dualism, then, is linked to ToM.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

People Construe a Corporation as an Individual to Ascribe Responsibility in Cases of Corporate Wrongdoing

Sharma, N., Flores-Robles, G., & Gantman, A. P.
(2023, April 11). PsyArXiv


In cases of corporate wrongdoing, it is difficult to assign blame across multiple agents who played different roles. We propose that people have dualist ideas of corporate hierarchies: with the boss as “the mind,” and the employee as “the body,” and the employee appears to carry out the will of the boss like the mind appears to will the body (Wegner, 2003). Consistent with this idea, three experiments showed that moral responsibility was significantly higher for the boss, unless the employee acted prior to, inconsistently with, or outside of the boss’s will. People even judge the actions of the employee as mechanistic (“like a billiard ball”) when their actions mirror the will of the boss. This suggests that the same features that tell us our minds cause our actions, also facilitate the sense that a boss has willed the behavior of an employee and is ultimately responsible for bad outcomes in the workplace.

From the General Discussion

Practical Implications

Our findings offer a number of practical implications for organizations. First, our research provides insight into how people currently make judgments of moral responsibility within an organization (and specifically, when a boss gives instructions to an employee). Second, our research provides insight into the decision-making process of whether to fire a boss-figure like a CEO (or other decision-maker) or invest in lasting change in organizational culture following an organizational wrongdoing. From a scapegoating perspective, replacing a CEO is not intended to produce lasting change in underlying organizational problems and signals a desire to maintain the status quo (Boeker, 1992; Shen & Cannella, 2002). Scapegoating may not always be in the best interest of investors. Previous research has shown that following financial misrepresentation, investors react positively only to CEO successions wherein the replacement comes from the outside, which serves as a costly signal of the firm’s understanding of the need for change (Gangloff et al., 2016). And so, by allocating responsibility to the CEO without creating meaningful change, organizations may loseinvestors. Finally, this research has implications for building public trust in organizations. Following the Wells Fargo scandal, two-thirds of Wells Fargo customers (65%) claimed they trusted their bank less, and about half of Wells Fargo customers (51%) were willing to switch to another bank, if they perceived them to be more trustworthy (Business Wire, 2017).Thus, how organizations deal with wrongdoing (e.g., whether they fire individuals, create lasting change or both) can influence public trust. If corporations want to build trust among the general public, and in doing so, create a larger customer base, they can look at how people understand and ascribe responsibility and consequently punish organizational wrongdoings.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Free will beliefs are better predicted by dualism than determinism beliefs across different cultures

Wisniewski D, Deutschländer R, Haynes J-D 
(2019) PLoS ONE 14(9): e0221617. 


Most people believe in free will. Whether this belief is warranted or not, free will beliefs (FWB) are foundational for many legal systems and reducing FWB has effects on behavior from the motor to the social level. This raises the important question as to which specific FWB people hold. There are many different ways to conceptualize free will, and some might see physical determinism as a threat that might reduce FWB, while others might not. Here, we investigate lay FWB in a large, representative, replicated online survey study in the US and Singapore (n = 1800), assessing differences in FWB with unprecedented depth within and between cultures. Specifically, we assess the relation of FWB, as measured using the Free Will Inventory, to determinism, dualism and related concepts like libertarianism and compatibilism. We find that libertarian, compatibilist, and dualist, intuitions were related to FWB, but that these intuitions were often logically inconsistent. Importantly, direct comparisons suggest that dualism was more predictive of FWB than other intuitions. Thus, believing in free will goes hand-in-hand with a belief in a non-physical mind. Highlighting the importance of dualism for FWB impacts academic debates on free will, which currently largely focus on its relation to determinism. Our findings also shed light on how recent (neuro)scientific findings might impact FWB. Demonstrating physical determinism in the brain need not have a strong impact on FWB, due to a wide-spread belief in dualism.


We have shown that free will beliefs in the general public are most closely related to a strong belief in dualism. This was true in different cultures, age groups, and levels of education. As noted in the beginning, recent neuroscientific findings have been taken to suggest that our choices might originate from unconscious brain activity, but see, which has led some to predict an erosion of free will beliefs with potentially serious consequences for our sense of responsibility and even the criminal justice system. However, even if neuroscience were to fully describe and explain the causal chain of processes in the physical brain, this need not lead to an erosion of free will beliefs in the general public. Although some might indeed see this as a threat to free will (US citizens with low dualism beliefs), most will not likely because of a wide-spread belief in dualism (see also [21]). Our findings also highlight the need for cross-cultural examinations of free will beliefs and related constructs, as previous findings from (mostly undergraduate) US samples do not fully generalize to other cultures.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The ”true me”—one or many?

Berent, I., & Platt, M. (2019, December 9). 


Recent results suggest that people hold a notion of the true self, distinct from the self. Here, we seek to further elucidate the “true me”—whether it is good or bad, material or immaterial. Critically, we ask whether the true self is unitary. To address these questions, we invited participants to reason about John—a character who simultaneously exhibits both positive and negative moral behaviors. John’s character was gauged via two tests--a brain scan and a behavioral test, whose results invariably diverged (i.e., one test indicated that John’s moral core is positive and another negative). Participants assessed John’s true self along two questions: (a) Did John commit his acts (positive and negative) freely? and (b) What is John’s essence really? Responses to the two questions diverged. When asked to  evaluate John’s moral core explicitly (by reasoning about his free will), people invariably descried John’s true self as good. But when John’s moral core was assessed implicitly (by considering his essence), people sided with the outcomes of the brain test. These results demonstrate that people hold conflicting notions of the true self. We formally support this proposal by presenting a grammar of the true self, couched within Optimality Theory. We
show that the constraint ranking necessary to capture explicit and implicit view of the true self are distinct. Our intuitive belief in a true unitary “me” is thus illusory.

From the Conclusion

When we consider a person’s moral core explicitly (by evaluating which acts they commit freely), we consider them as having a single underlying moral valence (rather multiple competing attributes), and that moral core is decidedly good. Thus, our explicit notion of true moral self is good and unitary, a proposal that is supported by previous findings (e.g., De Freitas & Cikara, 2018; Molouki & Bartels, 2017; Newman et al., 2014b; Tobia, 2016).  But when we consider the person’s moral fiber implicitly, we evaluate their essence--a notion that is devoid of specific moral valence (good or bad), but is intimately linked to their material body. This material view of essence is in line with previous results, suggesting that children (Gelman, 2003; Gelman & Wellman, 1991) and infants (Setoh et al., 2013) believe that living things must have “insides”, and that their essence corresponds to a piece of matter (Springer & Keil, 1991) that is localized at the center of the body (Newman & Keil, 2008). Further support for this material notion of essence is presented by people’s tendency to conclude that psychological traits that are localized in the brain are more likely to be innate (Berent et al., 2019; Berent et al., 2019, September 10). The persistent link between John’s essence and the outcomes of the brain probe in also in line with this proposal. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Piercing the Smoke Screen: Dualism, Free Will, and Christianity

S. Murray, E. Murray, & T. Nadelhoffer
PsyArXiv Preprints
Originally created on 18 Feb 20


Research on the folk psychology of free will suggests that people believe free will is incompatible with determinism and that human decision-making cannot be exhaustively characterized by physical processes. Some suggest that certain elements of Western cultural history, especially Christianity, have helped to entrench these beliefs in the folk conceptual economy. Thus, on the basis of this explanation, one should expect to find three things: (1) a significant correlation between belief in dualism and belief in free will, (2) that people with predominantly incompatibilist commitments are likely to exhibit stronger dualist beliefs than people with predominantly compatibilist commitments, and (3) people who self-identify as Christians are more likely to be dualists and incompatibilists than people who do not self-identify as Christians. We present the results of two studies (n = 378) that challenge two of these expectations. While we do find a significant correlation between belief in dualism and belief in free will, we found no significant difference in dualist tendencies between compatibilists and incompatibilists. Moreover, we found that self-identifying as Christian did not significantly predict preference for a particular metaphysical conception of free will. This calls into question assumptions about the relationship between beliefs about free will, dualism, and Christianity.

The research is here.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Consciousness is real

Image result for consciousnessMassimo Pigliucci
Originally published 16 Dec 19

Here is an excerpt:

Here is where the fundamental divide in philosophy of mind occurs, between ‘dualists’ and ‘illusionists’. Both camps agree that there is more to consciousness than the access aspect and, moreover, that phenomenal consciousness seems to have nonphysical properties (the ‘what is it like’ thing). From there, one can go in two very different directions: the scientific horn of the dilemma, attempting to explain how science might provide us with a satisfactory account of phenomenal consciousness, as Frankish does; or the antiscientific horn, claiming that phenomenal consciousness is squarely outside the domain of competence of science, as David Chalmers has been arguing for most of his career, for instance in his book The Conscious Mind (1996).

By embracing the antiscientific position, Chalmers & co are forced to go dualist. Dualism is the notion that physical and mental phenomena are somehow irreconcilable, two different kinds of beasts, so to speak. Classically, dualism concerns substances: according to René Descartes, the body is made of physical stuff (in Latin, res extensa), while the mind is made of mental stuff (in Latin, res cogitans). Nowadays, thanks to our advances in both physics and biology, nobody takes substance dualism seriously anymore. The alternative is something called property dualism, which acknowledges that everything – body and mind – is made of the same basic stuff (quarks and so forth), but that this stuff somehow (notice the vagueness here) changes when things get organised into brains and special properties appear that are nowhere else to be found in the material world. (For more on the difference between property and substance dualism, see Scott Calef’s definition.)

The ‘illusionists’, by contrast, take the scientific route, accepting physicalism (or materialism, or some other similar ‘ism’), meaning that they think – with modern science – not only that everything is made of the same basic kind of stuff, but that there are no special barriers separating physical from mental phenomena. However, since these people agree with the dualists that phenomenal consciousness seems to be spooky, the only option open to them seems to be that of denying the existence of whatever appears not to be physical. Hence the notion that phenomenal consciousness is a kind of illusion.

The essay is here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Should we create artificial moral agents? A Critical Analysis

John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally published September 21, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

So what argument is being made? At first, it might look like Sharkey is arguing that moral agency depends on biology, but I think that is a bit of a red herring. What she is arguing is that moral agency depends on emotions (particularly second personal emotions such as empathy, sympathy, shame, regret, anger, resentment etc). She then adds to this the assumption that you cannot have emotions without having a biological substrate. This suggests that Sharkey is making something like the following argument:

(1) You cannot have explicit moral agency without having second personal emotions.

(2) You cannot have second personal emotions without being constituted by a living biological substrate.

(3) Robots cannot be constituted by a living biological substrate.

(4) Therefore, robots cannot have explicit moral agency.

Assuming this is a fair reconstruction of the reasoning, I have some questions about it. First, taking premises (2) and (3) as a pair, I would query whether having a biological substrate really is essential for having second personal emotions. What is the necessary connection between biology and emotionality? This smacks of biological mysterianism or dualism to me, almost a throwback to the time when biologists thought that living creatures possessed some élan vital that separated them from the inanimate world. Modern biology and biochemistry casts all that into doubt. Living creatures are — admittedly extremely complicated — evolved biochemical machines. There is no essential and unbridgeable chasm between the living and the inanimate.

The info is here.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Does It Matter Whether You or Your Brain Did It?

Uri Maoz, K. R. Sita, J. J. A. van Boxtel, and L. Mudrik
Front. Psychol., 30 April 2019


Despite progress in cognitive neuroscience, we are still far from understanding the relations between the brain and the conscious self. We previously suggested that some neuroscientific texts that attempt to clarify these relations may in fact make them more difficult to understand. Such texts—ranging from popular science to high-impact scientific publications—position the brain and the conscious self as two independent, interacting subjects, capable of possessing opposite psychological states. We termed such writing ‘Double Subject Fallacy’ (DSF). We further suggested that such DSF language, besides being conceptually confusing and reflecting dualistic intuitions, might affect people’s conceptions of moral responsibility, lessening the perception of guilt over actions. Here, we empirically investigated this proposition with a series of three experiments (pilot and two preregistered replications). Subjects were presented with moral scenarios where the defendant was either (1) clearly guilty, (2) ambiguous, or (3) clearly innocent while the accompanying neuroscientific evidence about the defendant was presented using DSF or non-DSF language. Subjects were instructed to rate the defendant’s guilt in all experiments. Subjects rated the defendant in the clearly guilty scenario as guiltier than in the two other scenarios and the defendant in the ambiguously described scenario as guiltier than in the innocent scenario, as expected. In Experiment 1 (N = 609), an effect was further found for DSF language in the expected direction: subjects rated the defendant less guilty when the neuroscientific evidence was described using DSF language, across all levels of culpability. However, this effect did not replicate in Experiment 2 (N = 1794), which focused on different moral scenario, nor in Experiment 3 (N = 1810), which was an exact replication of Experiment 1. Bayesian analyses yielded strong evidence against the existence of an effect of DSF language on the perception of guilt. Our results thus challenge the claim that DSF language affects subjects’ moral judgments. They further demonstrate the importance of good scientific practice, including preregistration and—most critically—replication, to avoid reaching erroneous conclusions based on false-positive results.

Monday, December 31, 2018

How free is our will?

Kevin Mitchell
Wiring The Brain Blog
Originally posted November 25, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Being free – to my mind at least – doesn’t mean making decisions for no reasons, it means making them for your reasons. Indeed, I would argue that this is exactly what is required to allow any kind of continuity of the self. If you were just doing things on a whim all the time, what would it mean to be you? We accrue our habits and beliefs and intentions and goals over our lifetime, and they collectively affect how actions are suggested and evaluated.

Whether we are conscious of that is another question. Most of our reasons for doing things are tacit and implicit – they’ve been wired into our nervous systems without our even being aware of them. But they’re still part of us ­– you could argue they’re precisely what makes us us. Even if most of that decision-making happens subconsciously, it’s still you doing it.

Ultimately, whether you think you have free will or not may depend less on the definition of “free will” and more on the definition of “you”. If you identify just as the president – the decider-in-chief – then maybe you’ll be dismayed at how little control you seem to have or how rarely you really exercise it. (Not never, but maybe less often than your ego might like to think).

But that brings us back to a very dualist position, identifying you with only your conscious mind, as if it can somehow be separated from all the underlying workings of your brain. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to think that you really comprise all of the machinery of government, even the bits that the president never sees or is not even aware exists.

The info is here.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The brain as artificial intelligence: prospecting the frontiers of neuroscience

Fuller, S.
AI & Soc (2018).


This article explores the proposition that the brain, normally seen as an organ of the human body, should be understood as a biologically based form of artificial intelligence, in the course of which the case is made for a new kind of ‘brain exceptionalism’. After noting that such a view was generally assumed by the founders of AI in the 1950s, the argument proceeds by drawing on the distinction between science—in this case neuroscience—adopting a ‘telescopic’ or a ‘microscopic’ orientation to reality, depending on how it regards its characteristic investigative technologies. The paper concludes by recommending a ‘microscopic’ yet non-reductionist research agenda for neuroscience, in which the brain is seen as an underutilised organ whose energy efficiency is likely to outstrip that of the most powerful supercomputers for the foreseeable future.

The article is here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Will the 'hard problem' of consciousness ever be solved?

David Papineau
The Question
Originally published February 21, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The problem, if there is one, is that we find the reduction of consciousness to brain processes very hard to believe. The flaw lies in us, not in the neuroscientific account of consciousness. Despite all the scientific evidence, we can’t free ourselves of the old-fashioned dualist idea that conscious states inhabit some extra dualist realm outside the physical brain.

Just consider how the hard problem is normally posed. Why do brain states give rise to conscious feelings? That is already dualist talk. If one thing gives rise to another, they must be separate. Fire give rise to smoke, but H2O doesn’t give rise to water. So the very terminology presupposes that the conscious mind is different from the physical brain—which of course then makes us wonder why the brain generates this mysterious extra thing. On the other hand, if only we could properly accept that the mind just is the brain, then we would be no more inclined to ask why ‘they’ go together than we ask why H20 is water.

The article is here.

There is also a 5 minute video by Massimo Pigliucci on how the hard problem is a categorical mistake on this page.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Neuroexistentialism: Third-Wave Existentialism

Owen Flanagan and Gregg D. Caruso
In Neuroexistentialism: Meaning, Morals, and Purpose in the Age of Neuroscience edited by Flanagan and Caruso

Here is an excerpt:

      The scientific image is also disturbing for other reasons. It maintains, for example, that
the mind is the brain (see fn.4), that humans are animals, that how things seem is not how they
are, that introspection is a poor instrument for revealing how the mind works, that there is no
ghost in the machine, no Cartesian theatre where consciousness comes together, that our sense of
self may in part be an illusion, and that the physical universe is the only universe that there is and
it is causally closed. Many fear that if this is true, then it is the end of the world as we know it, or
knew it under the humanistic regime or image. Neuroexistentialism is one way of expressing
whatever anxiety comes from accepting the picture of myself as an animal (the Darwin part) and
that my mind is my brain, my mental states are brain states (the neuro- part). Taken together the
message is that humans are 100% animal. One might think that that message was already
available in Darwin. What does neuroscience add? It adds evidence, we might say, that Darwin’s
idea is true, and that it is, as Daniel Dennett says “a dangerous idea” (1995). Most people in the
West still hold on to the idea that they have a non-physical soul or mind. But as neuroscience
advances it becomes increasing clear that there is no place in the brain for res cogitans to be nor
any work for it to do. The universe is causally closed and the mind is the brain.

The book chapter is here.

Note to readers: This book chapter, while an introduction to the entire volume, is excellent scholarship.  There are a number of chapters that will likely appeal to clinical psychologists.

Friday, January 16, 2015

My brain made me do it, but does that matter?

By Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
The Conversation
Originally published December 12, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Despite some rhetoric, almost nobody really believes that the fact that your brain made you do it is by itself enough to excuse you from moral responsibility. On the other side, almost everybody agrees that some brain states, such as seizures, do remove moral responsibility. The real issues lie in the middle.

What about mental illnesses? Addictions? Compulsions? Brainwashing? Hypnosis? Tumors? Coercion? Alien hand syndrome? Multiple personality disorder? These cases are all tricky, so philosophers disagree about which people in these conditions are responsible — and why. Nonetheless, these difficult cases do not show that there is no difference between seizures and normal desires, just as twilight does not show that there is no difference between night and day. It is hard to draw a line, but that does not mean that there is no line.

The entire article is here.